Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

mike’s reflections on china

In late January, my husband Mike traveled from Virginia to visit me here in China.  We went to Hunan province, where we visited Fenghuang and Zhangjiajie, and to Guangxi, where we visited Guilin and Yangshuo.  I was disappointed for him because we had horrible weather for nearly the whole time he was here.  His one and only experience of China was a rainy, fog-enshrouded, cold and gloomy one.  In his reflections below, you can see that despite our hardships, he managed to see the experience as a positive one.  This was more than I could say for myself, but then I’ve seen better days in China.

Mike eats dumplings at the Red Sign

Mike eats dumplings at the Red Sign

Here are Mike’s reflections, along with some of the photos he took.

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After Cathy decided to go to China to teach this year she suggested that I should plan on visiting and traveling with her on one of her breaks. My initial reaction was less than enthusiastic. My first inclination is to plan relaxing, stress-free, outdoorsy vacations away from crowds and the fast-paced life I deal with in the DC suburbs. After giving the idea some thought and talking more with Cathy, I committed, leaving the planning to her, providing feedback on trip options when asked. I am an avid reader, like Cathy, and have an interest in cultural anthropology and world history, which I get from a fictional and non-fictional perspective. In addition to having the opportunity to spend some time with my nomad wife, I would see firsthand how one in five people on our planet live.

a wedding in the streets of Fenghuang

a wedding in the streets of Fenghuang

I knew from the outset that this trip would be a challenge, starting and ending with the long time-zone crossing flights halfway around the globe. From Cathy’s early travel experiences in China I knew that our in-country travels would not be easy. Neither of us are much on tour groups, preferring the freedom to move about at our own pace, surrounded by local folks, being forced to figure things out on our own. That‘s half the adventure. The apprehension we felt every time we ventured out to our next destination was rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and relief upon arrival. I came with no expectations other than to relish the uniqueness of China. Cathy put a lot of time and energy into our itinerary, hoping to show me the picturesque and historic side of Guangxi and Hunan provinces. You seasoned travelers understand the tenuous balance between trying to visit as many places as possible within a tight time window and allowing oneself the time to soak in the essence of each layover, and recharge, before diving in to the next adventure. I felt like we achieved that balance.

Fenghuang

Fenghuang

Cathy was very honest on her blog in describing her disappointment with the cool damp weather during my visit. Besides yielding a series of fog shrouded photos for her blog, she was sad for me. I am sure that many travel bloggers portray only the positive aspects of their trips, which is not reality. You have to accept and learn to deal with weather and other circumstances that don’t go your way. I like how Cathy freely shares her personal frustrations in her blogs.

Yes, I would have enjoyed some clear sunny days, but I was so alert to the sights, sounds, smells and the way of life wherever we went that the weather had much less of an impact on me than Cathy. The mist encased quartz-sandstone pillars of Zhangjiajie and the limestone karsts of Yangshuo looked whimsical and mysterious. The one rainy day where we didn’t go trekking was spent lounging in bed reading and treating ourselves to a muscle relaxing massage. That was just what we needed, some down time to recover.

Zhangjiajie

Zhangjiajie

I was constantly fascinated by assorted modes of transportation, the unified flow of scooters, bikes and buses on the crowded streets and dusty rural roads, the lack of heat throughout, the family way of life in the shops, service bays, and eateries, the variety of critters and body parts offered on the menus, the placid acceptance of a quality of life that few westerners could imagine, the third world toilets, the often derelict trains and train stations, the rural communal hamlets we cycled through, the villagers laboring in the never-ending fields, and the general friendliness of the people we encountered.

I wanted to see where Cathy lived, where she worked, the students she taught, where she shopped and ate, how she traveled, the soul and spirit of the bustling cities, the steady march of the rural farms, so I could get a sense for the environment she moved about in during her life in Guangxi. Thankfully those impressions will now be with me for the rest of her stay in Nanning, sensory impressions catalogued and brought to mind as she shares with me her weekly recap on Skype. Instead of her face and the stories she tells in words, I will see much more.

The Yangshuo countryside during a rainy bike ride

The Yangshuo countryside during a rainy bike ride

There are so many memories and images that come to mind from our two-week excursion, all fascinating to me, many of which Cathy has already shared in her blog. Some of these memories can’t be captured by pictures and words. They were moments of interaction, on some level, with others, in a land where one feels so isolated, despite being surrounded by 1.3 billion people. The thirteen hour plane ride seated next to a mother and her young son from Mongolia on their return trip from studying at the international school in Miami, Florida, the respectful sharing of a small train compartment for twelve hours with two young strangers, the prideful smile on the face of our dumpling lady in Fenghuang who was thrilled to see us show up for breakfast three mornings in a row, the conversation with a young woman, employed in international sales, on our boat ride on Baofang Lake, the engaging conversation with Duco, the young Dutch backpacker, on our bus ride to Yangshuo, the family we traveled with on our Li river bamboo raft, and the many challenging interactions arising from the language barrier at every twist and turn.

the town of Yangshuo

the town of Yangshuo

In one of Cathy’s blogs about Alex’s time in China she mentions a tension-filled afternoon. This is to be expected, in less than ideal travel situations and close quarters, as individual expectations collide with circumstances and each other. I suppose the key to traveling with someone else, successfully, is to recognize that this will happen and what to do when it does happen. I think in Alex and Cathy’s case, space and time was all they needed, and by the evening they were fine. It was surprising to me given all of the traveling we did and the inclement weather we encountered that we didn’t really encounter any moments of tension. Perhaps I’ll chalk that up to my laid back nature; HA! Just joking Cathy, I know it takes two to make this happen.

In looking back on my two weeks in China, followed by Alex’s two weeks, followed by Cathy’s trip to Myanmar, I am amazed at Cathy’s stamina, especially in light of the cough she came down with on our trip. Both Alex and I were exhausted after our short journeys. I can’t even begin to imagine doing that for six weeks. Cathy is like the Energizer Bunny, she keeps going and going and going!!!

the Yangshuo countryside on the way back to Guilin

the Yangshuo countryside on the way back to Guilin

As I left China I realized that this was truly a once-in-a-life experience. It is an experience that for myself, and for Alex, will resurface in years to come as we put global events into perspective, as a result of having the opportunity to glimpse a way of life so different from our own. I am thankful for that opportunity.

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Categories: Airplane, Asia, Baofeng Lake Scenic Spot, Bicycle tour, Bus, Changsha, China, Fenghuang, Guangxi University, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin, Holidays, Hunan, Jishou, Li River, Nanning, Nanning Wuxu International Airport, Seven Star Tea Plantation, Sino-Canadian International College (SCIC), Spring Festival, Train, Transportation, Travel, West Street, Wulingyuan Scenic Reserve, Xi Jie, Xianggong Hill, Yangshuo, Yangshuo River View Hotel, Zhangjiajie, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

to the heights of zhangjiajie by way of the bailong elevator

Sunday, January 25:  The forecast for today is as bad as it was yesterday, but as it’s our last day here, we’ve hired a guide to make sure we see the best of what there is to see in the shortest amount of time.  She meets us at our hotel at 10:00 and we head by taxi to the entrance to the park and then directly by the park bus to the Bailong Elevator, which will take us to the heights of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.

me on the platform of the Bailong Elevator

me on the platform of the Bailong Elevator

According to Prafulla.net:‘The Bailong Elevator’ at Zhangjiajie National Park, China : The Highest and Heaviest Outdoor Elevator in the World:  Zhangjiajie Bailong Elevator (Chinese百龙天梯) is a glass elevator built on the side of a huge rock in the Wulingyuan Scenic Reserve in Zhangjiajie, China.  It is 1070 ft (330m) high and claimed to be the world’s tallest glass elevator.

It is the highest outdoor elevator in the world and it has three Guinness World Records: 1) World’s tallest full-exposure outdoor elevator; 2) World’s tallest double-deck sightseeing elevator and 3) World’s fastest passenger traffic elevator with biggest carrying capacity.

However, due to the potential harm caused to the surrounding landscape, its future remains uncertain.

Views of our surroundings from the bottom of the Bailong Elevator

Views of our surroundings from the bottom of the Bailong Elevator

According to Top China Travel.com: Bailong Elevator: Bailong Elevator, or Hundred Dragons Elevator, includes three exposure sightseeing elevators running parallel to one another. Each elevator can take 50 passengers every time and the speed is 3 m/s. If the three elevators run simultaneously, the amount of one-way passengers can reach 4,000 per hour.

The Bailong Elevator allows people to “go sightseeing up the mountain during the day,” and return to the bottom by nightfall.  So it provides convenience in transportation for visitors.  Moreover, passengers can access amazing scenery on the elevator, including the World Bridge of Yuanjiajie, Wulong village and Yangjiajie. The elevator integrates Mount Tianzi, Yuanjiajie, and Jinbian Stream as a single entity, solving traffic bottleneck problems in this scenic spot.

Sadly, I don’t take a picture of the elevator to show here, because I actually think it’s quite ugly.  You can see the actual elevator on one of the links above.

View from the deck of the Bailong Elevator

View from the deck of the Bailong Elevator

Prior to the elevator’s opening in 2002, it took visitors more than three hours to drive on dangerous mountain roads to Yuanjiajie.  It took more than five hours if you drove from the foot of mountain to Yuanjiajie scenic spot. Since Bailong Elevator has been accessible to visitors, the time has shortened to one minute and 58 seconds, which is considered to be a miracle.

We pay a lot of money to be whisked quickly up the elevator to the walkways built along the heights of the National Park.  The fog is so thick today you could stir it with a spoon, but as morning fog usually yields to clear skies later in the day, I figure it will get better as the day progresses.  I am dead wrong.

At the top of the elevator, the walkway begins

At the top of the elevator, the walkway begins

Our guide Kathy is one of the ethnic minority people who lives in the area (I can’t remember which minority).  At the top of the mountain she sings us a native song.  I would put my video on YouTube and link to it here, but YouTube is nearly impossible to use in China. Maybe when I return to the USA, I’ll be able to post it.  I’m sure she’s thrilled to be taking people on a tour here on this dreary and cold day.

Our cute guide

Our cute guide

We get some glimpses of the park’s pinnacles early on.

first glimpses from the top...

first glimpses from the top…

...and that's all they are: glimpses

…and that’s all they are: glimpses

But as we continue to walk, the fog gets thicker and thicker.  We get to a spot that shows a placard of the Avatar Mountain.  This is what we see:

The Avatar Mountain

The Avatar Mountain

I’m not kidding.  We can’t even see the outline of the famous mountain that looks so pretty on the placard.  I honestly want to cry.  I am so frustrated that this fog won’t allow us even a glimpse of some of the beautiful mountains here.

We do get so see scores of monkeys climbing over the trees and the walkways and the railings.  One of them even jumps on a girl’s backpack as she’s walking and tries to take some food from her.  She screeches, as I suppose I would do too if a monkey jumped on my back!

We continue on the walk and I feel increasingly depressed and frustrated.  I have so looked forward to coming to this place.  I’ve dreamed of having wonderful pictures to share, but all I can see is fog.  In some spots, the wind is blowing and the fog looks more wispy than in other places.  I stand in those areas for a long time, determined to wait until the wind blogs the fog away, if even for a split second, so I can see the mountains.  Here’s a gallery of some of what I see, but it isn’t much.

There are a couple of better views along the way as the fog does clear intermittently.

a few peeks of a few peaks

a few peeks of a few peaks

some slightly clearer views

some slightly clearer views

more slightly clear views

more slightly clear views

We continue on until we come to the No. 1 Bridge in the Earth.  A stone near the bridge says: This natural bridge connects the natural moat with a span of 50 meters, a height of 350 meters, a width of 4 meters, and a thickness of 5 meters.  When sunny, the bridge opening is obviously seen, when rainy the fog drifts in with sounds.

The No. 1 Bridge in the Earth

The No. 1 Bridge in the Earth

I’m trying to smile, but you can see it’s difficult.  I really want to cry and feel like I’m on the verge of doing so.  Can you tell?

me at the No. 1 Bridge in the Earth

me at the No. 1 Bridge in the Earth

Looking down

Looking down

The No. 1 Bridge in the Earth

The No. 1 Bridge in the Earth

The No. 1 Bridge in the Earth

The No. 1 Bridge in the Earth

Locks on the bridge

Locks on the bridge

a few more glimpses from the bridge

a few more glimpses from the bridge

fleeting sights along the bridge

fleeting sights along the bridge

looking into the depths

looking into the depths

View from No. 1 Bridge in the Earth

View from No. 1 Bridge in the Earth

More locks on the bridge

More locks on the bridge

On the bridge with the Chinese tourists

Mike on the bridge with the Chinese tourists

Mike and I on No. 1 Bridge

Mike and I on No. 1 Bridge

We look out on the opposite side of the No. 1 Bridge in the Earth, and we can barely see some of the pinnacles on the other side.

After our walk, we walk to another mountain, where I stand on the edge of a steep precipice.

Me on edge

Me on edge

Finally, we make it to a lunch place where we order my usual Chinese dishes of salty green beans sautéed with hot peppers and scrambled eggs with tomato.

Lunchtime!

Lunchtime!

Our guide tries to take us to an old village on the mountain.  We start to go in, but when she tells us we have to pay another entry fee, we decline.  I’m too depressed to go further.  Every bit of this trip has cost us a fortune, from hiring the guide, to paying the fee to go up the elevator to coming back down the elevator.  The fees are endless at this place.

the entry to the village that we don't go into

the entry to the village that we don’t go into

outside of the village

outside of the village

As we’re returning to take the elevator back down, we come to this statue of Marshal He Long.  A group of Chinese businessmen are milling about and posing with the statue.

He Long was a Chinese military leader who lived from March 22, 1896 – June 8, 1969. He was from a poor rural family of the Tujia ethnic group in Hunan, and his family was not able to provide him with any formal education. He began his revolutionary career after avenging the death of his uncle, when he fled to become an outlaw and attracted a small personal army around him.  You can read more about him here: Long March Leaders: Marshal He Long.

Statue of Marshal He Long

Statue of Marshal He Long

As we leave through the visitor’s center, we see these gorgeous photos of the park.  Here’s what Zhangjiajie should look like on a nicer day.

This is what Zhangjiajie SHOULD look like!

This is what Zhangjiajie SHOULD look like!

What I wish I'd seen

What I wish I’d seen

Unless I someday make it back to the park, what I saw today is all I will ever see.  Sadly, this will be my memory of the park: a mere suggestion of what it really is.

Last views of the park from the Bailong Elevator platform

Last views of the park from the Bailong Elevator platform

final view of Zhangjiajie

final view of Zhangjiajie

We take the park bus back to the entrance, where the bus driver is much more careful and slow-moving than yesterday’s driver, who careened around the many curvy cliffside roads to return us to earth.

Back at our hotel. we rest awhile before going to a Chinese acrobatic and dance show at a venue next to our hotel.  More about that in another post.  🙂

 

 

 

Categories: Asia, Avatar Mountain, Bailong Elevator, China, Hunan, Marshal He Long statue, Travel, Wulingyuan Scenic Reserve, Zhangjiajie, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park | Tags: , , , , , , | 36 Comments

a fog-enshrouded day along zhangjiajie’s golden whip stream

Saturday, January 24:  Our next two days at Zhangjiajie National Forest Park are to prove incredibly disappointing because of steady rain, heavy fog, and biting cold.  We are barely able to see the beautiful karst formations on the first day, and on the second day, when we climb to the higher elevations, we are often not able to see anything at all.  In some spots, all we see is a bank of white fog without even an outline of the mountains that are beautifully pictured on placards.

The entrance to Zhangjiajie Global Geopark

The entrance to Zhangjiajie Global Geopark

the view beyond the crowds of tourists

the view beyond the crowds of tourists

Outside of the park entrance, we are greeted by vendors selling cheap ponchos and shoe covers.   We each buy a poncho, me blue and Mike yellow.  I buy a pair of plastic camouflage-patterned shoe covers for my tennis shoes; Mike doesn’t because he has good waterproof hiking boots. I come quickly to regret this decision.

me in several layers of clothes as well as a big blue poncho and some camouflage-colored shoe covers

me in several layers of clothes as well as a big blue poncho and some camouflage-colored shoe covers

Inside the gate, we’re greeted on the walkway by the monkeys that occupy the park.  They congregate where the tourists do, in hopes of getting some snack food, which they most certainly do.  Chinese tourists love to share junk food with animals of all sorts.

one of the many monkeys in Zhangjiajie

one of the many monkeys in Zhangjiajie

According to China Highlights: Zhangjiajie, Zhangjiajie sits in the west of Hunan Province, 330 kilometers from Changsha, the capital of the province, and over 1,000 kilometers from both Shanghai and Beijing.  The park is famous for its precarious peaks, limpid streams, dense forests, and large karst caves. In 1982, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park became China’s first national forest park.

Zhangjiajie was the inspiration for James Cameron’s movie Avatar. The park is known for its stone pillars that reach over 1km in height and resemble the ones seen in the movie; I haven’t seen the movie myself. The area has approximately 3,000 tall quartzite sandstone pillars.  These are different from the karst formations in Guilin, which are limestone.

According to Wikipedia: Zhangjiajie National Forest Park: Although resembling karst terrain, this area is not underlain by limestones and is not the product of chemical dissolution, which is characteristic of limestone karst. They are the result of many years of physical, rather than chemical, erosion. Much of the weathering which forms these pillars are the result of expanding ice in the winter and the plants which grow on them. The weather is moist year round, and as a result, the foliage is very dense. The weathered material is carried away primarily by streams. These formations are a distinct hallmark of Chinese landscape, and can be found in many ancient Chinese paintings.

We are advised by Donald, an English-speaking Chinese manager at the Hotel Pullman, to take a 5 km walk today along Golden Whip Stream, since it will be raining all day.  I’m interested in going to the higher elevations, but we’ll wait until tomorrow in hopes that the rain and fog will clear so we can enjoy the views. Golden Whip Stream is in Jinbianxi Canyon, a deep canyon surrounded by cliffs and peaks.  A sign at the park says the distance from the peaks to the valley bottom is 350-500 meters and the width of the valley base is 30-80 meters.

Golden Whip Stream

Golden Whip Stream

More monkeys are in the trees around us.  This mother is holding her baby close.

monkeys at Zhangjiajie

monkeys at Zhangjiajie

We can see some beautiful peaks along our walk, peaks with names such as Golden Whip Crag and Splitting Mountain to Save Mother, among others.  They’re enshrouded in fog.

 

peaks along Golden Whip Stream

peaks along Golden Whip Stream

Zhangjiajie's poetic peaks

Zhangjiajie’s poetic peaks

mystical peaks

mystical peaks

Limestone karst formations at Zhangjiajie

Limestone karst formations at Zhangjiajie

peaks through the trees

peaks through the trees

As we walk along the stream, it feels like my feet are getting colder and colder.  They even feel like they’re wet, but how can they be?  I have those plastic shoe covers on.  I inspect my shoes and find that water has collected on the plastic shoe covers and is seeping into my shoes.  They are soaked through and through.  I take off the shoe covers, realizing too late that I would have been better off without them.  My feet are soaked and will be for the rest of the day.

the walkway along Golden Whip Stream

the walkway along Golden Whip Stream

Even with all the layers of clothes, I am shivering, and now with wet feet, I feel even colder.  But of course, we’re here to enjoy the walk and we must complete the 5km long path.  There’s no easy way out to return to the hotel to change my shoes as there are no cars or roads along this trail.

views along the stream

views along the stream

Golden Whip Stream

Golden Whip Stream

I try to look cheery even though I'm cold and miserable and disappointed.

I try to look cheery even though I’m cold and miserable and disappointed. (Photo by Mike)

Every once in a while we get a glimpse of color through the fog, and I foolishly hope that the fog will lift.  It doesn’t.

misty views

misty views

looming tower of Golden Whip Crag

looming tower of Golden Whip Crag

Closer view of Golden Whip Crag

Closer view of Golden Whip Crag

More pinnacles

More pinnacles

towering pinnacles

towering pinnacles

Zhangjiajie

Zhangjiajie

Some of the peaks have interesting names.  This one is Splitting Mountain to Save Mother.

Splitting Mountain to Save Mother

Splitting Mountain to Save Mother

I wonder what they look like on a sunny blue-sky day?

I wonder what they look like on a sunny blue-sky day?

Golden Whip Stream

Golden Whip Stream

Golden Whip Stream

Golden Whip Stream

Another pinnacle along Golden Whip Stream

Another pinnacle along Golden Whip Stream

How would you like to try to climb one of these?

How would you like to try to climb one of these?

After all our walking, we’re getting quite hungry.  We come upon a little set of food stalls in the middle of nowhere and we stop for a snack of corn on the cob and boiled eggs.

Lunchtime!!

Lunchtime!!

We continue on our walk through more of the valley.  The views would all be amazing if they weren’t so obscured by fog. I love how the Chinese give such interesting names to mountains.  Along this trail, we see: Monkey Playing in the Chinese Yew Grove, Master and Apprentice Journey to the West, Pigsy Looking in the Mirror, Two Turtles Peeking at the Stream, Rabbit Watching Moon, Soldiers Gathering and Candle Peak.

Luckily, it has stopped raining by now, but my feet are still wet and I’m shivery cold.

The end of the trail deposits us at a parking lot in front of a little museum.  We wander about inside looking at the exhibits describing the karst formation at Zhangjiajie. We’re also hoping to get warm here, but no such luck; the building isn’t heated.

We take a small bus to another part of the park where you can take a train for some more views.  This is called the Long Gallery.  Some of the peaks which we can barely see here are called Her Collecting Old Man, Three-Sisters Peaks, and The God of Longevity Welcoming Guests.  Our views are even more hazy on this train ride.

When we get back to our hotel, I’m happy to take off my wet shoes and to take a long hot soak in that bathtub, drinking a glass of wine in the steaming water.  I can open the slatted doors and chat with Mike in the room.  It’s lovely.  Then we treat ourselves to a nice dinner in the hotel restaurant.

Hotel Pullman restaurant

Hotel Pullman restaurant

Mike orders steamed broccoli and gets a huge plate of it.

Mike orders steamed broccoli and gets a huge plate of it.

Me at dinner.  I order a plate of spring rolls.

Me at dinner. I order a plate of spring rolls.

Donald, an English-speaking manager at the Hotel Pullman, has been super friendly and helpful to us.  As we only have one more day in Zhangjiajie, we ask him if we can hire a guide for the day to take us to the higher elevations.  He arranges the guide for us, even though we all know that another rainy and foggy day is forecast for tomorrow and our chances of seeing anything are slim to none.

This is Donald

This is Donald

If you want to see some pictures of how this park looks in beautiful weather, I suggest you drop by to visit China Nomads: The Karst Peaks of Zhangjiajie.

Categories: Asia, China, Golden Whip Stream, Hotel Pullman Zhangjiajie, Hunan, Jianbianxi Canyon, Travel, Wulingyuan Scenic Reserve, Zhangjiajie, Zhangjiajie Global Geopark, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park | Tags: , , , , , , | 19 Comments

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